Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 4, "Metaphorics of the 'Naked' Truth"

Blumenberg follows up on another metaphor used by Lactantius: the nakedness of truth.

This metaphor brings up the issue of the appropriateness of the truth for human beings, who after all are the creatures who have adopted clothing to conceal nakedness. Blumenberg cites Werfel and Kierkegaard expressing distaste for the barbarity of the passion for unconcealed truth.

Augustine and Rousseau use the image of the nakedness of the soul before God (and also, for Rousseau, before his fellow men) to describe a confession of the truth of one's life. Rousseau also uses nakedness as metonym for the natural state of man before his distortion by society, and grounds his political critique on conceptually stripping away humanity's accumulated cultural and technical heritage. Stripping off the disguises of society becomes a common trope of modern political rebels, deployed in turn by bourgeois French revolutionaries and by Marx.

Pascal, responding to Montaigne, takes issue with this kind of critique. For Pascal, the whole point of institutions is that they are made. They are imaginative constructs, and our recognition of and respect for the garb and other conventions of office, rather than reason, is what makes them work.

Another issue that really only comes to foreground due to metaphors is the relationship between truth and happiness. While the Skeptics had deployed many arguments casting doubt on our ability to find truth, and thus the desirability of pursuing it, they had nothing to say about whether it could ever provide fulfillment even if were attained. The Christian tradition of Biblical exegesis, however, had to confront a text in which truth was often conveyed in images. This was seen by Thomas among other medieval thinkers as a form of protection from having to confront unmediated truth.

There was scant support in the Aristotelian tradition for the use of intermediary images to grasp truth, however, and the most faithful (Averroistic) adherents of that tradition were strident advocates for the nakedness of truth, that is, for the idea that truth should be presented without literary adornment. This striving for a pure truth (Blumenberg calls it a will to truth) disturbed humanists who upheld the value of richer figurative expression of truth, which they captured with in the concept of sapientia (wisdom).

In Pico Della Mirandola's letter to Ermolao Barbaro, the Averroist is depicted as desiring to hide the truth from the uninitiated by making it plain and unattractive. But the modern reception of truth as science made any exclusive access to truth untenable, although the expectation of a plain style of presentation remained. Blumenberg cites Bacon and Lessing to show that the naked, undisguised truth was now apprehended as shared, public truth. Lessing, in addition, insists that all truth is equally valuable; it is the formal property of being true that matters, not practical significance, because what matters is that all truth contributes to an overall state of enlightenment.

The development of historical consciousness undermined the assumption behind the naked truth metaphor. Winckelmann first sees historical "disguises" of truth not as superficial decoration but as constitutive of the way truth appears to us. Husserl's appreciation of Galileo's theories as not the naked truth, but a "well-fitting garb of ideas" shows a kind of adaptation of the metaphor to this new perception.

A new skepticism emerges in modern times about the power of truth to provide happiness. One way this plays out is in Lessing's thesis that satisfaction comes in the pursuit of truth rather than in its actual uncovering. Rousseau's contrasting take is that the concealed truth (metaphorically hidden at the bottom of a well) is best left undisturbed, that even pursuit of it is more like to lead to error and unhappiness than satisfaction. We see a culmination of the consequences of this skepticism for the metaphor of naked truth in Kierkegaard, who sees shared, external (and thus metaphorically naked) truth as unable to provide the satisfaction which can only be obtained through truth which provides internal meaning.